Book Series Warwick Studies in Renaissance Thought and Culture, vol. 1

From the Domesday Book to Shakespeare’s Globe

The Legal and Political Heritage of Elizabethan Drama

Dominique Goy-Blanquet

  • Pages: 456 p.
  • Size:156 x 234 mm
  • Illustrations:1 col.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2023

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-60131-1
  • Hardback
  • Available
  • ISBN: 978-2-503-60132-8
  • E-book
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Explores the strong interconnection between England’s unique legal system and Elizabethan theatre, and how this links into claims of independence from Europe.


Dominique Goy-Blanquet is professor emeritus at the University of Picardie, France, and a member of the editorial board of En attendant Nadeau. Her works in English include Shakespeare’s Early History Plays: From Chronicle to Stage (OUP, 2003), Shakespeare in the Theatre: Patrice Chéreau (Arden, Bloomsbury, 2018), essays for Shakespeare Survey, Cambridge Companion, Moreana, Law and Humanities, and most recently a chapter on Tudor lawyers in volume 6 of A Cultural History of Law, edited by Gary Watt (Bloomsbury, 2019).


The phrase ‘Jus Uncommon’ summarizes England’s claim to independence from Europe, a claim supported by its unique legal system and Elizabethan theatre, and their strong interconnexion. Elizabethan tragedy begins at the Inns of Court. It was no mere coincidence, but a result of the long history of intersecting processes of law, politics, and theatre. This book sets out to contextualize and explore such legal and literary intersections, charting the emergence of Elizabethan legal culture from its various English and European sources over the course of the four hundred years running from Magna Carta to Shakespeare. It encompasses the major strands of legal history and culture that formed the background to Elizabethan political drama, republican tradition, theories of monarchical sovereignty, European and English theories of imperium, pedagogical and rhetorical practices of the Inns of Court, legal-antiquarian research, parliamentary privilege, and Tudor political pamphleteering.

Legal texts, discourses, and social practices constructed a pervasive intellectual culture from which Elizabethan drama – like Shakespeare’s – emerged. Shakespeare is not the central object of this study, but he is central to its argument. What he knew about law was what collective memory had stored from centuries past at home and abroad. The issues, characters, themes, theories, and metaphors dramatized by the Elizabethan playwrights followed the way opened at the Inns. Emblematic figures of lawyers-writers and their Senecan patterns paved the way to Gorboduc and to Shakespeare’s histories.


Editorial Note

Introduction : Law or Liberty?

Part I. Jus uncommon. Freedom of the State

Chapter 1. Dreams of Empire

  • Early Steps to Singularity
  • Clashes of Jurisdictions
  • Sacred Monarchy
Chapter 2. England’s Mixed Polity

  • English Democrats
  • Good Counsel
  • Model Parliaments
  • Right of Conquest
Chapter 3. Rival Law Codes

  • Roman Law
  • The Common Law of the Realm
  • Emergence of the Inns
  • Upward Mobility
Part II. Fair Trial. Freedom of Magistrates

Chapter 4. Learned Counsel

  • A Display of Legalism
  • The Courtly Muses of Europe

Chapter 5. Divorcing Rome

  • King’s Conscience
  • King’s Printer
  • King’s Games
Chapter 6. Fortune’s Wheels

  • Common Prayers
  • Heretics on Trial
  • ‘Something Tawdry’. The Political Pageant
  • ‘An Axe or an Acte’. The Execution of Justice

Part III. The Conscience of England. Freedom of Speech

Chapter 7. The Languages of Law

  • The Legal Nursery
  • Won in Translation
Chapter 8. Theatres of Law

  • Dramatic Justice
  • Political Tragedy
Chapter 9. Lawyers in Parliament

  • ‘Shall Cassandra Bee Punished?’ The Liberties of the House
  • Clean and Unclean Money
  • The Lawyer’s Glasses of Governance
Chapter 10. Kings do but Play Us

  • Lawyers in Resistance
  • A Parliament of Voices

Conclusion. ‘This Magnificent Theatre of Heaven and Earth’

Select Bibliography

Index of Acts, Statutes, and Treatises

Index of Plays, Poems, Dialogues, and Masques

General Index